Despite Regev's Accusations, Israeli Filmmakers Aren't Really Interested in Palestinians

Culture minister complained that funds don’t promote societal films and lack diversity among their reviewers, but a Haaretz investigation shows the opposite.

MK Miri Regev, December 2, 2014.
Emil Salman

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev recently signaled that she had Israeli cinema in her target sights. She told Yedioth Ahronoth earlier this month that she intends to establish a committee to examine cinema funds, expressed dissatisfaction that the funds do not encourage societal films and criticized the severe lack of variety among their reviewers when choosing which films to invest in. She stressed that she wanted to see more films that present the “Zionist, Israeli, Jewish and societal” viewpoint.

However, a Haaretz investigation reveals that nearly half (78 of 158) of Israeli feature films deal with social issues and conflicts found at the heart of Israeli society, while only 11 percent dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation between 2010 and 2015.

“There are so many complaints about the cinema, I want to check them out,” Regev told Yedioth Ahronoth. “Who are the reviewers? According to what [criteria] are they distributing the funds? As Moshe Edri told me, ‘If “Baba Joon” would be a candidate of the cinema fund, it would not receive money.’ Why? Because the cinema funds do not promote societal films.”

This statement’s inaccuracies are irritating. Not only did the cinema project of the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts support production of the indie film "Baba Joon," that fund also invested in the development stage of the script. In other words, the Rabinovich Foundation decided at two different points to support Yuval Delshad’s film, which won the 2015 Ophir Prize.

Last year alone, the films “Next to Her” and “Paper Wedding,” which explore the difficulty of mentally challenged people to integrate into society; “Ben Zaken,” which tells the story of a single father in Ashkelon fighting to raise his daughter properly; “Encirclements,” which follows a teenager who fights for the right to carry the Torah scroll in the synagogue of a traditional Tel Aviv neighborhood; and “Princess” and “That Lovely Girl,” which take a scathing look at the issue of incest and sexual abuse within the family, were released. And those are just some of the societal films released in Israel.

Katriel Schory, executive director of the Israel Film Fund, protests the charge that not enough films dealing with issues that characterize Israeli society are being made here. “If you look at Israel’s record in drama, and documentaries too, you see that most of the films deal with societal issues across the spectrum – religious, secular, the periphery, etc.,” he says.

Giora Einy, executive director of the Rabinovich Foundation, stressed that the topic of a film does not influence the decision whether or not to invest in it. “The films are reviewed only according to artistic quality and the opinion of the reviewers. We don’t look for films for or against the occupation,” he says.

“If you look at the foundation’s films, you will find that there is an enormous variety of subjects, and this variety was created randomly. We don’t seek out films about specific subjects. Rather, we invest in films that the reviewers choose according to artistic criteria. There must not be selection according to topic because we are not supposed to censor, to promote certain subjects and avoid others. We choose the best films, regardless of their topic.”

“We have no agenda. We have no flags,” agrees Schory. “We prefer no topics. The selection is made solely according to the cinematic and professional value of the project before us.”

And what about Regev’s promise to look into the identity of the reviewers within the funds who select which films to fund? “There are not enough people from the periphery, Mizrahim and ultra-Orthodox Jews, and almost no women there,” she stated.

Here, too, it seems her advisers did not verify the situation on the ground. The Culture Ministry’s Israel Film Council was required years ago to ensure that the reviewers fairly represent women as well as a balance of opinions, traditions and cultures from within Israeli society. The reforms at the time also required the reviewers to include representation from the geographic, social and cultural periphery of Israel.

“The Film Council’s criteria oblige us to ensure diversity among the reviewers, and we are careful to meet them and include women as well as reviewers of Arab, Ethiopian, Russian and other backgrounds, as required,” says Einy. “It’s not always so easy. It demands an effort, but we manage to do it.”

Schory adds: “We have a broad diversity of reviewers – women, from the periphery, Haredim and settlers, too. We are strict about this, and the main problem is that people complain without checking the facts. We detail exactly who our reviewers are in the documents we submit annually to the Film Council.”

The Women Media Center Israel and Nashim B’Tmuna (Women in the Picture) led the fight for equality between women and men among the reviewers. The Film Council was won over and introduced the criterion for selecting reviewers. The cinema funds agreed to pursue this goal, too. Data the Rabinovich Foundation supplied Haaretz shows that the fight paid off. Women have comprised six of 13, eight of 14 and 10 of the 21 reviewers who read scripts in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively, for the foundation.